Stop Playing the Blame Game

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I was commuting to work a few weeks ago in typical spring Minnesota weather: a nasty mixture of freezing rain and snow, combining to create a slippery, slushy drive littered with cars in ditches, spinouts and, appropriately for this magazine, plenty of fender benders. 

At one point I noticed myself behind a Tesla. They are becoming so common on roads today I really didn’t think twice of it, until it started fishtailing toward a concrete barrier. Luckily the driver was able to regain control of the car and continued on his way. 

Had the gentleman lost control and hit the barrier, this situation would have been one of countless incidents where a driver underestimated Mother Nature and lost. He would have been placed at fault by his insurance company, and likely given a warning from law enforcement about reckless driving in hazardous conditions. 

But, what if the road conditions were perfect, and the car still veered into that barrier despite hypothetically having full autonomous technology? (Note: no current vehicle on the market has full Level 3 ADAS autonomy, although Mercedes-Benz is reported to be working on one) Who gets the blame for that one? That’s the subject of Noah Brown’s ADAPT story this month (“Who’s at Fault When an Autonomous Vehicle Crashes?”), and it’s a question with no easy answers.

As driverless technology continues to advance, there’s practically no legal precedent on whether the responsibility lies with the driver or manufacturer. The issue is being regulated on a state-by-state basis, but by and large companies are still pointing the blame away from themselves, insisting that proper control of the car ultimately belongs to the driver.

What intrigues me, however, is how insurance companies will determine fault, and how they’ll reach that conclusion, especially when it comes to collision repair reimbursements. Technology created by humans will always be imperfect, regardless of the industry or individual product. 

I know we are all eagerly watching the automotive industry evolve, and as we’ve hit a new chapter, there are important legal questions that need to be answered soon. Perhaps there needs to be legislation in how these vehicles are marketed to consumers, or drivers should be required to receive formal education on a vehicle’s software and its limitations before they can drive it off the lot. 

My hope is that manufacturers, consumer protection agencies, and insurance companies come together to create a standard set of guidelines for the U.S.The wise thing to do is to get ahead of the curve and find a middle ground now. The sooner you have solid rules to follow, the safer and more productive it is for all of us. 


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